Klondike Nira, and Guernsey Explorer
On October 7, 1933, in preparing for an exploration of Antarctica, Admiral Richard E. Byrd asked for three Guernsey cows to go on the voyage in order that the crew might have fresh milk. Cows from Deerfoot Farms, Southborough, and Emmadine Farm, Hopewell Junction, New York (owned by J.C. Penney), were loaded on the good ship Jacob Ruppert in Boston (Pier 9 at the navy yard in the Charlestown section). The ship set sail for Norfolk, Virginia, on October 11, 1933, to pick up coal and its other distinguished passenger, Nira Pola, another Guernsey cow from Klondike Farms in Elkin, North Carolina. Nira Pola was with calf, and Admiral Byrd thought it would be a novelty if a calf was born on the ice.
The Jacob Ruppert set sail from Norfolk on October 22, 1933, for her journey to the Antarctic. Brought along for the cows were provisions of sand and straw for bedding, twenty tons of hay, twelve tons of beet pulp, and two tons of bran for their planned two years in the Antarctic. Printed for the expedition were milk bottle caps that read: “Byrd Antarctic Expedition, Golden Guernsey Milk Produced on Board the Jacob Ruppert.”
The three Guernsey cows – affectionately named “Deerfoot” (“Deerfoot Maid” or “Deerfoot Farm Maid” was her full name), “Foremost Southern Girl,” and “Nira Pola Guernsey” or “Klondike Nira” – made the voyage to the Antarctic having gotten their sea legs long before any of the crew. A baby bull calf, named “Iceberg,” was born to Klondike Nira 275 miles north of the Antarctic Circle on December 19th; Admiral Byrd had hoped that the birth would truly be an Antarctic event but, alas, it was not meant to be.
The Original Ice Cream
The Jacob Ruppert anchored in the Bay of Whales on January 17, 1934. Put ashore, the cows and the bull calf born at sea had to walk almost three miles across the ice to “Littel America” before they were housed temporarily in a tent. The four cows lived onsite in the tent until a cow barn was made out of blocks of ice (15 x 31 x 8 feet). It was completed with an electric milking machine that awaited them at the site!
Sadly, Klondike Nira contracted frostbite and had to be destroyed. The crew’s attachment to the cows was very apparent when Cox (the crewman assigned to carry out the deed) is quoted in Admiral Byrd’s book, The Discovery, “I’ve put away a lot of ’em, Admiral, but it never got me before. I guess I got pretty fond of that cow”. In 1935, the three remaining cows returned from the Antarctic after traveling 22,000 miles back to their original owners, going down in history as the first (and only) cows to travel to the Antarctic!
Teresa Steer, Peterborough Historical Society Staff, 2003, and Paul Doucette, Southborough Historical Society, at www.southboroughhistory.org.